Mixed on Masks

  • Ledger illustration by Bryan M. Richter

COMANCHE COUNTY – As we eclipse six months since widespread lockdowns began in the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the public opinions regarding mask usage and mask mandates continue to be mixed.

Although a majority of voters seem to support mask mandates overall, support splits along ideological lines, specifically among the extremes of our two main political parties, while much of the developed world looks to America with disbelief.

In a recent SoonerPoll of 563 Comanche County registered voters, approval for the mandating of wearing masks while in public places came in at 71.4% with a combined disapproval of just 23.6%. Approval for mask mandates among those identifying as registered Democrats was 87.7% compared to 58% among registered Republicans. Among Democrats, 79% strongly approved and only 5.7% strongly disapproved, compared to only 36.4% strongly approving and 25.1% strongly disapproving among registered Republicans.

When looking specifically at political beliefs, approval among those identifying as very or somewhat liberal eclipsed 96.2%, among moderates, 80.9%, and only 60.3% among conservatives. Those who didn’t identify with a specific political belief, representing 10% of the respondents, approved of mask mandates at 73.2% and only disapproved at 3.6%, with 23.2% undecided on the issue, the largest block of voters with no decision on mask mandates. Of those approving of mask mandates, 45% identified as Liberal or Moderate and 45% identified as Conservative, while among those disapproving, only 24.3% identified as Liberal or Moderate and 79.7% identified as Conservative.

Political ideology and rhetoric plays a large role in determining a person’s position regarding mask mandates. 

This bears out in the data when controlling for which Presidential candidate those voters support. Among those intending to vote for Joe Biden, the Democrat, 95.5% approve of mask mandates in public places, while only 53.6% of those intending to vote for President Trump, the Republican, approve of such mandates. Only 2.7% of Biden supporters disapprove of mandates while 40.8% of Trump supporters disapprove.

Only 8.7% of Trump supporters believe controlling the coronavirus to be the most important issue, with 49.1% stating law and order issues to be most important, followed by the economy and job creation at 37.8%.

Biden supporters checked off controlling the coronavirus 60.8% of the time, with law and order and the economy at 19.5% and 18.3% respectively. This is correlated by what we saw recently in the conventions, with the Democratic National Convention focusing on the President’s handling of the coronavirus and recent civil unrest, while the Republican National Convention focused on protection, law and order, and the administration’s economic accomplishments prior to COVID-19.

Those who approve of mask mandates in public spaces often speak in terms of protecting everyone to ensure their own protection. 

Those who disapprove often cite many different reasons – mandates being violations on personal freedom, mandates more negatively affecting small businesses, safety concerns, health concerns, the slippery slope argument (today it’s masks, tomorrow they come for our guns), the argument that COVID-19 either doesn’t exist or that it does and we shouldn’t lend so much attention to it (just let it run its course) and more. Much of the latter seems to stem from political rhetoric and often unsubstantiated claims in the media – both traditional and social.

In countries around the world, many find the U.S. debate regarding mask usage surreal. “I must say being based in Europe that this whole debate and politicization of the mask issue, (it) becoming part of U.S. culture wars, is pretty surreal to observe,” Tina Fordham, head of global political strategy at Avonhurst, remarked in July. Most countries in east Asia were quick to adopt mask mandates, but that comes after decades of dealing with other respiratory disease outbreaks such as SARS in the early 2000s, MERS, and multiple avian flu instances. Masks were more socially acceptable in many countries in the eastern hemisphere. But as countries worldwide, both developed and developing nations, adapted to mask mandates quickly for the “greater good,” the United States bucked the trend along political and ideological lines. A combination of masks being “odd” and a penchant for individualism in our country have led us to where we are today.

Individualism created the idea that local governments are better equipped to make local decisions with local impacts. It is why states’ rights were codified in the 10th Amendment – the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. Many have argued that leaving decisions on mask mandates to the states and local municipalities has been detrimental to the effects of mask mandates as a whole. According to a recent article in the Journal of American Medical Association titled Universal Masking in the United States, “the state-by-state approach, moreover, is ill suited to health emergencies, which spill over to adjoining states, even the entire country. National leadership and a national plan are required. As mask use illustrates, state policies rapidly and forcefully affect U.S. regions and the United States overall. States that reopened too soon experienced surges in COVID-19 cases, which spread across state borders.” 

While the City of Lawton strongly encouraged mask usage in a recommendation on April 10th, it wasn’t until July 17th that a mask mandate was put into place. “There is so much contradictory information, and even changing positions of the CDC, that the Council relied heavily on the dozen-plus local medical professionals that came to the City Council meeting to speak on behalf of wearing masks to slow the spread, and keep the economy open,” said Lawton Mayor Stan Booker.

Too many local municipalities have been shouldered with the responsibility regarding mask mandates which has led to a patchwork of decisions across Oklahoma and similar states. Considering the evolving nature of information regarding the usage of masks during the last six months and the politicization of the subject, it is a gigantic task to leave in the hands of local governments.

Lawton resident Amanda Nuñez weighed in on mask usage: “We’ve all heard the saying ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ and that couldn’t be more true than now with the mask mandate. I wear my mask to protect myself and others, to slow the spread of COVID-19, and to keep business open. Was it fun wearing a mask in the Oklahoma summer heat? No. But the inconvenience has been worth it.”